The diet of goats, red deer and South American camelids feeding on three contrasting Scottish upland vegetation communities.

Published online
23 Jul 1997
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Fraser, M. D. & Gordon, I. J.

Publication language
UK & Scotland


With changes in the agricultural policy for rural areas in the UK there is increased interest in the development of management protocols for indigenous and sown swards in upland Scotland based on grazing by ruminant species other than sheep and cattle, e.g. goats, red deer and South American camelids. The diet composition over two seasons of goats, red deer (Cervus elaphus) and South American camelids (guanacos, Lama guanicoe) grazing three vegetation types typical of upland ecosystems in the UK: a sown sward (Lolium perenne-dominated), an indigenous grassland (Nardus stricta-dominated) and a dwarf shrub community (Calluna vulgaris-dominated), is described. On each vegetation type, all three animal species were selective feeders. The composition of the goats' diet was more variable than that of the red deer and guanacos. All three species were more selective when grazing the indigenous communities than when grazing the sown sward. On the Lolium sward, the guanacos avoided clover and other dicotyledonous plants, whilst the goats and red deer consumed green leaf from all plant categories found at or near the sward surface. On the Nardus community, all three species avoided the dominant tussock-grass and selected green lamina of broad-leaved grasses from the species-rich inter-tussock areas. Between-species differences in minor components included an increased contribution of non-grass monocotyledonous plants to the goats' diet in spring, and a higher proportion of grass flowerstem and grass seed flowerhead in the guanacos' diet in summer. The diets of the three species of animal on the Calluna community were broadly similar. All generally avoided C. vulgaris and strongly selected graminoid species. Consumption of grass was greater in spring than summer. Species differences in diet composition, particularly on indigenous swards dominated by N. stricta and C. vulgaris, might facilitate vegetation management and improve animal output using multispecies grazing systems.

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